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THE CHRISTMAS STORY
This week we celebrate the most beloved of all Christian holy days: Christmas. Surprisingly this feast developed rather late in Western Christian history, its present form and popularity owing more perhaps to Charles Dickens than to traditional Christian practise.
In the early days of the Church it was Easter that received the greatest attention. In fact, the earliest writings in the Bible show no awareness of the details of Christ’s birth at all, suggesting the Christmas story as we know it developed rather late in the process. But the 4th and 6th centuries saw great controversies about the meaning of the Person of Christ which drew attention to the Incarnation—literally Christ’s “enfleshment”—which is celebrated at Christmas.
While early dating of Christ’s birth placed the feast on May 20, Roman practise eventually settled on December 25, perhaps to counteract the pagan feast of the Nativity of the Sun God. In the East however, even where December 25 became the normative date for Christmas, many churches placed greater emphasis on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, and many still regard that day as the greater festival.
Christmas in the West traditionally has been celebrated by three Masses: at midnight on Christmas Eve, at dawn on Christmas Day, and again later in the day. Popular custom allows us to offer a variety of worship services to meet a variety of needs, as we do: the Pageant for families, a late-night Christmas Eve service, and the quieter Christmas morning service.
Last week we reported on some things still to be figured out as we settle into our newly renovated space. This week we turn our attention to the finances required to run our new facility.
The vision that guided our renovations focused on a more welcoming and flexible building complex that supported our own program needs while engaging the wider community, especially through the arts. That meant, among other things, washrooms appropriate for larger crowds and sound and light systems suitable for artistic presentations. But both come with a price tag beyond their installation costs.
Larger useable floor space in the church and the new washrooms require cleaning, as do all the hallways with their increased weekly use. So we have offered Eduardo our caretaker a full-time contract, doubling his hours. Similarly the advanced technology up in the balcony requires an experienced hand to set and monitor the sound and lights, both for worship and for public performances. Chad Dudley our web site designer is that person, and he is training a team of volunteer techies to help him out. Then to coordinate special events—either our own or the community’s—we need a House Manager, someone to oversee the building’s use. We are still searching for that person.
The funds for these new expenses will come partly from the groups that use our church, who are surcharged for any additional staffing they require. The rest comes from our own members—from you!—who support us through your regular offerings.
Last Sunday we hosted two concerts in our new space: a choral concert in the afternoon and in the evening a benefit concert for Madison House, a residence for veterans who might otherwise be on the street. The second event was particularly telling, and also very encouraging.
The program—“Christmas at Madison House”—was a parade of young musical talent, each act performing three or four songs in a wide range of styles, from pop to jazz to Latino to folk. Our rector was invited to close the program with a few compositions of his own.
The new stage proved equal to the task, as did our sound and theatrical systems. But it took a deft hand—by which we mean Chad our technical support person—to manage the sound levels and the lighting for such a diverse program.
But the organizers could not have been happier with their new venue. They raised over $1000 to help give the residents of Madison House a Merry Christmas. They praised what we had done to the place to make it so accessible. They also thanked us for our willingness to make it available for their fund-raiser. Clearly they will return, perhaps making their program an annual event at St. Stephen’s.
This was our hope: that our building might serve as a way of connecting with the wider community through the arts … and especially the developing arts, the young up-and-coming artists who will make their mark in years to come. We’re launched.